Tenor James Valenti Comes to Town to Sing Tosca. Other visits include Children International headquarters.
Tenor James Valenti stands tall in the world of opera. Scheduled to make his Lyric Opera of Kansas City debut in Tosca April 18-26, the 6’5″ tenor may appreciate taking center stage, but he would much rather lift a child on to his shoulders and help improve that child’s life. Valenti is a celebrity ambassador for the Kansas City-based charity, Children International, a 75-year-plus organization that provides life-changing child- and youth-development programs in 10 countries: Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Mexico, the Philippines, the United States and Zambia.
Sponsored kids get involved in these programs by visiting community centers around the globe Children International constructs in their neighborhoods. The community centers build a sense of connection among the residents, provide a safe haven from dangerous influences and offer a variety of critical services kids wouldn’t otherwise receive, such as access to medical and dental care, pharmacies, libraries, computer labs and playgrounds. As children grow they can take advantage of programs such as social and financial education, leadership, continuing education and job training.
A sponsor since 2006, Valenti was invited to visit Children International’s La Caleta sponsorship community after expressing a desire to promote the work of CI at his performances. “I was in graduate school in Philadelphia and I really was looking at avenues for outreach. I have always loved children and the chance to aid underprivileged kids spoke to me. So I chose a child from Colombia. As a child, I had a nanny from Colombia and I remember her so fondly. She really was the reason I picked Colombia. It’s always beneficial when you have a personal connection.”
Valenti has a home in Miami so trips to the Dominican Republic made sense. “I was involved financially and I wanted to help more. The plane flight is quick and the kids are great. Sure my career is full, but the humanitarian side of me wants to give back.” His more recent trips include his visit with his sponsored children in Colombia in December following performances in Buenos Aires and the winter trip to the Philippines in between performances in Southeast Asia. “I really try to make time in my busy global schedule to visit with children. Music connects and as you said it’s my gift to them.”
While he might be tall enough to be in the NBA, he’s really a big kid at heart. “I’ve always loved kids. Kids keep you very present and I am always touched by their honesty and sincerity. I like to be silly, play make-believe games, rough house a bit, just play and laugh,” he notes. “Kids have always been drawn to me.
“A few years ago, I had a very special little girl in my life and we had a strong bond. We loved each other. Because of circumstances beyond my control, we are unfortunately no longer in each other’s lives and it was a sudden and harsh change. I missed her terribly and my heart had this bruise that I needed to heal. I needed to find a way to fill that hole in my heart and redirect that love. I had always been involved with Children International and I decided to reach out to them to see if I could get more involved, to do my own humanitarian work and give my time and attention to other kids around the world and make them smile. It has been very positive and rewarding and makes me want to do even more to help them.”
Valenti clearly understands that his voice is a gift and that gift is something he can share with the world. “Certainly I am an opera singer and I get to step into some incredible opera houses all around the world and stay in five-star hotels, but when I visit the centers or see the towns where homes have dirt floors, the contrast is humbling and I cannot take myself too seriously. It’s charming to sing sweet tunes with children or simply play.” Of course, the added bonus is to share his beliefs that the arts and humanities are important. “People respond when I sing, but kids at these centers have never heard opera and they want to learn more. This is my gift to give and I am happy to give it.”
As for coming to sing in Kansas City, this will mark his first visit. He knows of local roots of mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and all about the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. “I look forward to exploring restaurants and other cultural activities.” His appearance with the Lyric will mark Valenti’s first opportunity to sing the role of Cavaradossi in Tosca. “I have sung selections in concert, but have never taken on the full role. Puccini is thrilling, but it is work that has to get into the muscles.”
As the heart is a muscle, Valenti plans on working that out a bit too. During Valenti’s time in Kansas City, he will be attending a private event on April 20 where he will speak about his experiences with Children International, including his travels to the Dominican Republic, Colombia and the Philippines.
“We are thankful beyond words to have James as a long-time sponsor and supporter of Children International. He is truly a kind-hearted and generous person, and it is clear that he is genuinely concerned about the plight of children in poverty,” says Children International Public Relations Coordinator Brittany Gelbach. “Whenever he visits one of our community centers, our children, youth and staff are so motivated by his enthusiasm and support of them. His fame as a professional opera singer aside, James’s role as a sponsor makes him a real-life hero to the kids in our programs. And, as much as the children love seeing and hearing him, James himself loves to share with others just how much he gains from the visits and from being a sponsor himself. He’s a walking advertisement of the joy sponsors receive from becoming involved in a cause that is life-changing for these kids.”